Last week off was just what I needed, a break from both the day job and the internet. When I wasn't hanging out with my son I spent a good portion of the downtime reading Gary Shteyngart's new novel Super Sad True Love Story. The book is set in a disturbingly plausible near future where American capitalism is on the brink of collapse to its Chinese and European creditors. National Guardsmen patrol the streets and the country is in the midst of a disastrous war with Venezuela, but most of population is blissfully unaware, staring into into their äppäräti, iPhone-like devices that wrap them in a smog of data and credit-fueuled luxury shopping. It was enough to make me not want to poke my head back online.
Shteyngart is no Luddite though, and while he clearly prefers a more contemplative culture of human relationships over this obsessively connected one, he acknowledges the inevitable pull of the latter. After "The Rupture," when a riot by National Guard bonus marchers in Central Park is brutally quashed by the military, the network feeding the äppäräti goes down. Lenny, the novel's protagonist, describes the aftermath:
Four young people committed suicide in our building complexes, and two of them wrote suicide notes about how they couldn't see a future without their äppäräti. One wrote, quite eloquently, about how he "reached out to life," but found there only "walls and thoughts and faces," which weren't enough. He needed to be ranked, to know his place in the world. And that may sound ridiculous, but I can understand him. We are all bored out of our fucking minds. My hands are itching for connection.
I didn't disconnect enough last week to claim complete off-the-grid independence, nor did I contemplate suicide. But Lenny's boredom is familiar. When I wasn't spending every spare moment checking Twitter on my äppärät, I noticed how often I fill the little interstitial downtimes with the internet. But after a couple of days, the initial reaction of, "Now what am I supposed to do" turned into "Hey maybe I can squeeze in another couple pages of that book." It was nice, a feeling I haven't experienced in a long time. And it came around just in time to go back to work and ruin it all.